The fire in Matanzas, which is still blazing as of August 8, is the largest fire in Cuban history. This fire will only exacerbate the energy crisis in Cuba, which is racked with high fuel costs and aging infrastructure. Yet US anti-blockade organizations claim that current US policies make it extremely difficult to provide humanitarian aid.

Despite the US embassy in Cuba claiming that “US law authorizes American institutions and organizations to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba,” activists say that current US policy severely limits any aid to Cuba. prohibits.

“Right now, the biggest obstacle to Cuba’s relief, but also future recovery, is the US unilateral sanctions, the blockade, the fact that Cuba remains on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, notwithstanding it. In any way or form,” Manolo de los Santos, co-executive director of the People’s Forum, told People’s Dispatch.

The US government offered “technical assistance” for the devastating fire, with no mention of sending specific material aid to Cuba. In response, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted, “We express our deepest gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile, who have immediately responded with concrete material assistance to the face of this complex situation.” We also appreciate the technical advice offered by the US.”

The US government has given no indication that it will lift the devastating blockade and sanctions imposed on Cuba, nor will it remove Cuba from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism”. As activists Medea Benjamin and Natasha Lacia Ora Bannan argued in a recent piece, Cuba’s designation on this list is particularly damaging. Donald Trump designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism during his presidency, a title given to only three other countries, all of which the US is actively hostile to: Syria, North Korea and Iran.

Trump cited Cuba’s refusal to extradite members of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) peace delegation, a refusal that was contrary to the wishes of Colombia’s right-wing President Ivan Duque at the time. Trump also cited the asylum issued by Cuba to escape American political prisoner Asata Shakur, praised by many for her role in the American Black Liberation Movement.

Due to Cuba’s designation as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, it is illegal for US banks to process transactions from Cuba. However, many banks in the West, for fear of being punished in some way by the US government, abided by the sanctions and refused to process transactions involving Cuba.

Trump also added more than 200 new sanctions against Cuba during his presidency, including limiting remittances to less than $1,000 per person per quarter, and even barring cruise ship trips and limited visits to Cuba. Including targeting the tourism industry. US sanctions against Cuba have made it difficult for organizations to provide emergency assistance, due to the lack of air cargo service between the US and Cuba and the need for an export license from the Department of Commerce.

Biden has imposed a number of Trump-era sanctions regarding Cuba, but recently re-authorized charity remittances to Cuba. Despite this, no mechanism exists to send them, as the US refuses to use Cuban entities that have processed remittances in the past.

In addition, most payment platforms that are most commonly used in the US, such as GoFundMe, PayPal, Zelle, and Venmo, will also not process Cuba-related transactions for fear of a backlash from the US government. Venmo users have complained that even the mention of “Cuban Sandwich” in the payment would cause the company to flag the transaction.

The anti-war organization CODEPINK has called on the US, one of the world’s richest countries, to provide humanitarian aid to Cuba. “We urge President Biden to order immediate coordination between relevant US agencies to provide direct and immediate assistance at the request of Cuba. The administration must also remove existing policies and sanctions that prevent Cuba from providing essential medical, humanitarian and environmental relief or from receiving financial and other aid from other countries or entities,” the organization wrote.

At the grassroots level, organizations such as the People’s Forum and Puentes de Amor in the United States have already taken initiatives to assist Cuba. Yet the People’s Forum is also calling on the US government to step in and provide assistance. “It is difficult for friendly organizations in the United States to do relief work and support Cuba at a time when no American bank is willing to go through the labyrinth or potential threats,” de los Santos said.

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